After more than 50 years on the stage, Barry Humphries and alter egos Sir Les Patterson and Dame Edna Everage say goodbye to audiences with a two hour spectacular that’ll have you rocking with laughter.
Barry Humphries’ Farewell Tour – Eat, Pray, Laugh kicks off with Patterson’s revelation that he’s quitting politics in pursuit of a career as a TV chef.
As he demonstrates his cooking skills in his garden – flown, he assures the audience, all the way from Australia – Patterson cements his status as Australia’s least diplomatic diplomat, warning the audience that if they’re expecting a night of of “PC” comedy they should “fuck off home” before launching an onslaught of sexual, toilet and gross-out gags at the crowd.
And of course they love it, the first night audience howled with laughter at things they suspect they probably shouldn’t. Apart from, that it is, one couple a few rows in front of me who dashed from the stalls shortly after Patterson told the audience about his “vagina decliner” brother.
Just when you feel your sides and chest will cope no longer, Patterson’s relentlessly crude gags make way for a virtuoso monologue from Humphries’ Sandy Stone.
Finally dead and appearing to the audience as a ghost, Sandy darts between a number of disparate stories, some tragically sad – the passing of his young daughter – and others bitingly satirical – a cruel but accurate depiction of the heartless care home in which his wife now lives.
Humphries uses Sandy’s slower, quieter manner of speech to reel the audience in, teasing them into dropping their guard before invoking another bout of laughter.
And then, after an interval which finally brings respite from the convulsions, it’s time for Dame Edna.
The self-declared megastar has lost none of her appeal, yet she too is retiring, turning her back on the shallow world of celebrity for a life of prayer and spiritual renewal.
Her possums are implored not to miss her, but to instead find solace in all the moments they’ve shared over the past 50 years. To help them on the way she treats them to one last hour of song and laughs, aided by some unwitting members of the audience – those of you with front row seats beware!
Edna’s routine deserves to be savoured without prior knowledge so I’ll limit myself to saying that this final hour of the show is Humphries’ crowning moment. On the opening night the audience’s affection for both character and creator poured forth.
Painfully funny, Eat, Pray, Laugh shows that even at 79 and on the verge of retiring from live shows, Barry Humphries is still capable of holding an audience in the palm of his hand and toying with them mercilessly.
Whatever you define ‘it’ to be, he has it in spades and knows how to use it. His retirement feels like something far bigger – the passing of an era and, possibly, an entire school of humour.
Acts like Humphries’ come alive on stage better than in film or on TV but they still need the exposure which only TV brings if they’re to capture the public’s imagination.
Tragically TV no longer has the outlets to allow another Humphries to emerge.
It’s the slow finessing of an act, the decades of carefully honing it, of adjusting the pitch and the tempo which transforms a funny routine into an internationally acclaimed and adored icon.
Once audiences were invited to marvel at craftsmen. Today we’re expected to make do with the pub singer turned overnight into a ‘sensation’ before they fade from view as rapidly as they appeared, resurfacing only occasionally with an increasingly bitter tale of how the music businesses shafted them.
The shallow world of celebrity – complete with its obsession with instant-fame reality shows – from which Edna is running is the reason she’ll never have a spiritual successor.
In retiring while still on top of his game and by beckoning us into a world without Patterson or Edna, Humphries exposes how much poorer our culture has become.
But if you’re quick you can still enjoy a splash of old-school humour and quality.
Eat, Pray, Laugh is playing at the London Palladium until January 5th before touring the UK. Visit www.dameednafarewell.com for dates and booking details.
Disclosure: I attended as a paying member of the first night audience. At the request of the show’s publicists this article was held back until after the official press night on Friday 15th November.